GEORGE TOWN: Last weekend, a video of a woman claiming Penang had changed for the worse under the federal opposition’s 10-year rule went viral.
The unnamed woman listed a set of issues and areas such as the cost of living, income, and the protection of nature now allegedly deteriorating in Penang.
FMT conducted a fact check to see if Penang is indeed in dire straits, as she claims.
Woman: “Our expenses are now the same as those living in KL but our income has not grown; you think most of us are well off, the truth is most of us are not.”
Fact check: Not true.
Monthly expenses in Penang are lower than those in Kuala Lumpur, according to official statistics from the federal government.
In 2016, Penangites spent less per month, recording a mean (average) monthly household expenditure of RM4,190, compared with RM6,214 by those in Kuala Lumpur and RM5,183 in Selangor.
Putrajaya recorded the highest in terms of household expenses, at RM6,971, followed by Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Penang came in fifth place after Melaka, which recorded RM4,374 in average expenses.
The lowest expenditure was recorded in Sabah, at RM2,595.
The information above is from the Statistics Department’s Household Expenditure Survey Report 2016.
On income growth:
The people of Penang are generally being paid higher than the national average, at RM5,409 a month in 2016 compared with RM4,702 in 2014, another report by the Department of Statistics shows.
According to the 2016 Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report, the median monthly household income for all Malaysians went up to RM5,228 in 2016 compared with RM4,585 in 2014, with a growth rate of 6.6% per annum.
The report also showed Penang Island’s northeast (NE) and southwest (SW) districts recording a high mean (average) income in 2016, placing them in the top 20 districts with high pay.
NE district had a mean income of RM7,756, while SW had RM7,232. The statistics department did not provide the median income in its report.
Meanwhile, Central Seberang Perai, where the Perai industrial area is located, had a median income of RM5,172. The department did not provide the mean income.
Woman: “I got promoted, senior executive (with a pay of) RM2,600, but KL (a friend who is) senior executive (gets) RM4,000.”
Fact check: Not true.
A quick check on job listing website JobStreet shows more than 20 job listings offering at least RM3,000 to RM4,000 for a senior executive position in a variety of industries in Penang. Some positions offer RM7,000 and above, depending on qualification and experience.
For the same job listing in Kuala Lumpur, the pay is similar to what is being offered in Penang, between RM3,000 and RM4,500. Some jobs also offer higher salaries, up to RM7,500.
Woman: “Penang housing prices are super high. If one does not have RM800,000, can’t even dream about owning a home; wish we have more affordable homes like the good old times; luxury homes for what, only foreigners can enjoy.”
Fact check: Not true.
According to the National Property Information Centre (Napic), a majority of properties sold in Penang in the third quarter of 2017 were priced below RM500,000.
Napic data indicates that 72.9% of the 3,132 properties sold in Penang during the time were priced below RM500,000. A total of 2,286 units were sold below RM500,000.
A total of 383 units were sold in the RM300,001 to RM400,000 price band, while 389 units worth RM100,00 to RM150,000 were sold.
Some 586 units of properties between RM500,001 and RM1 million were sold during the same time.
Napic is under the purview of the Valuation and Property Services Department, finance ministry.
Affordable homes then and now
A total of 5,154 low-cost and low-medium cost houses were built in Penang from 1999 to 2007.
From 2008 to 2017, 25,000 units of affordable housing of various types were completed. Another 70,000 units are in the pipeline, the Penang government has said.
These units are being sold for between RM42,000 for the smallest units and RM300,000 for the largest units, on the island and mainland.
Currently, the capped prices for affordable houses on Penang island are (followed by sizes): RM150,000 (750 sq ft); RM 250,000 (800 sq ft); and RM300,000 (900 sq ft).
On mainland Seberang Perai, the prices are capped at: RM150,000 (750 sq ft); RM200,000 (800 sq ft); and RM250,000 (900 sq ft).
Foreigners buying properties
Statistics show that interest in Penang properties by foreigners has dwindled, partly because of the minimum price of RM1 million for properties in the state that can be bought by foreigners.
On the island, there is a RM3 million minimum price for landed homes while a cap of RM1 million is set for condominium units.
These units are further subject to an “approval fee levy” of 1.5% on properties priced between RM1 million and RM1.5 million, and a 3% levy on properties above RM1.5 million.
Foreigners purchasing properties on mainland Seberang Perai would have to fork out a minimum RM1 million.
Official statistics show that for the first half of 2016, 142 properties were bought by foreigners, compared to 267 units in 2015, 491 in 2014, 763 in 2013 and 301 in the second half of 2012.
Woman: “Some more, quit rent increases every year.”
Fact check: Not true.
There has been no increase in quit rent since 2008, a Penang Land and Mines Department official confirmed.
Woman: “Water price (has) increased.”
Fact check: True, but only for those who waste water.
There has been no increase in water rates, but a “water conservation surcharge” has been imposed on “water wasters”, who form a quarter of the 504,400 water-using households in Penang.
Currently, Penang’s water is the cheapest in Malaysia at 32 sen per 1,000 litres for the first 35,000 litres of water. The national average is 66 sen.
The state also recorded the highest volume of water used at 286 litres/capita/day (l/c/d) last year, compared with the national average of 209 l/c/d. The United Nations’ recommendation is 148 l/c/d.
The federal government had, in fact, written to Penang to demand its water prices be increased so that there will be a drop in water usage. The Penang government is reluctant to do so, choosing to penalise those who waste water through the water conservation surcharge of 48 sen.
Woman: “You ignored the mainland and focused on the island.”
Fact check: Not true.
The Penang government has dedicated 77% of its development funds to mainland Seberang Perai, with almost RM2.38 billion spent, while only RM698 million was spent on the island.
Woman: “All the big factories close down, and investors are losing confidence. Many people are losing their jobs, and illegal factories are appearing everywhere.”
Fact check: Not true.
Despite some legacy factories leaving due to larger regional alignments, some new factories have invested in Penang.
But Penang has carved a new name in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) or Global Business Services (GBS) sector.
The state government is building a large-scale, MSC-standard GBS complex near the second bridge, which will be completed in two years. When ready, it is expected to provide at least 3,000 jobs to locals.
Swarovski, for instance, recently opened its Asian GBS centre in Penang, with Swiss software firm Luxoft opening early last year.
Penang also recorded the highest foreign direct investment in the manufacturing sector in the country at RM8 billion in the first three quarters of 2017, it was earlier reported.
The Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), in its Malaysia Investment Performance 2016 report, listed Penang as having the second largest investments for GBS after Kuala Lumpur, worth RM4.1 billion.
According to accounting firm Deloitte, GBS is a term for under-one-roof shared services and outsourcing to improve service delivery and reduce costs for businesses.
Broadcom Limited, one of the world’s largest wireless chip makers, has set up a RM59 million global distribution warehouse at Batu Kawan, with an estimated export revenue of more than RM60 billion once fully operational.
MIDA also reports that Penang registered the highest level of investments with RM7.7 billion, followed by Melaka (RM2.9 billion), Selangor (RM1.7 billion), Johor (RM1.4 billion), and Kedah (RM1 billion).
Figures from MIDA for the period 2008-2016 reveal that Penang came third in Malaysia for FDIs with RM41,554 million, losing out only to Johor’s RM55,751 million and Sarawak’s RM48,371 million.
As for jobs, about 128,000 new jobs were created between 2008 and 2015, according to official statistics from the Penang government.
Figures from the federal Department of Statistics show Penang recorded the second lowest unemployment rate at 2.1% in 2016, when the national average was 3.4%. Melaka recorded the lowest unemployment rate.
Sabah, Terengganu and Kelantan were the top three states with high unemployment
Woman: “Wasted hundreds of millions on some don’t-know-what undersea tunnel study.”
Fact check: It’s the subject of ongoing debate.
The issue of the undersea tunnel study being overpaid for was first raised by Barisan Nasional’s Strategic Communications director Abdul Rahman Dahlan. He said the Penang government paid RM177.5 million to the consultants of the project.
Saying this was four times the “actual” amount, Rahman added that detailed design costs should “only be slightly over RM41 million”, as per guidelines set by the Board of Engineers (BEM), a federal engineers’ body.
Project builders Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd said Rahman’s calculations were wrong, as he’d left out the undersea tunnel component, which was awarded together with the three major roads project.
It said the figure appeared to be bloated as Rahman had singled out the RM177.5 million for just three major roads.
Zenith also said the RM41 million estimate calculated by BEM only took into account civil and structural work. It said some of the scope of work required foreign expertise.
BEM is under the direct purview and administration of the works ministry.
Woman: “Garbage everywhere, building on mountaintops.”
Fact check: Subjective, and also part of an ongoing debate.
Although cleanliness might be subjective, Penang is now cleaner than before, with George Town being listed as the cleanest city in the Asean region under the Asean Clean Tourist City (ACTC) 2017.
Penang also recorded the highest recycling rate in the country at 38%, way above the national recycling rate of 21%. Seberang Perai has done well with an increase in recycling rate from 22% in 2008 to 42% last year.
As for building on mountaintops, it is likely the woman was referring to hill slope development concerns by NGOs in Penang.
The Penang Structure Plan (PSP) bars development on slopes steeper than a 25% gradient and/or on land higher than 75 metres, which is stricter than national guidelines for hill land development.
However, the state’s local authorities allow such projects to take place under the “special projects” provision if “proper mitigation measures” are taken.
The Penang Forum has urged the state government to halt all hill-related developments barring essential services. It says the hill areas are fragile, and it is important to maintain the current state of the ecosystem.
Many observers have stressed on the fragility and ecological importance of Penang’s natural ecosystems, and the increasing encroachment of human activity. For example, between 2008 and 2015, the municipal council (MBPP) granted 56 approvals on land above 250 ft, many of which are high-rise, high-density projects.
Woman: “More than 20 floods in 2017 alone.”
Fact check: True.
The “more than 20 floods” is likely related to the overall number of floods in different locations within the state. Most of the floods can be traced to the double-whammy flood season during the months of September and November last year.
According to a reply by the government in the state assembly, Penang had a total of 119 flash flood incidents from 2013 until Oct 15, 2017.
The reply stated there were 22 flash flood incidents in 2013, 20 cases in 2014, 26 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 21 between January and Oct 15, 2017. Most of the flash floods were on the island.
Last year’s floods were the worst in the state. The Penang government said they were caused by natural disasters.
The average rainfall in Penang is 250mm per month. The Nov 4-5 rain brought 372mm rainfall overnight.
Woman: “The people (PM, DPM) we once thought were the culprits ended up saving us.” (She was referring to the November floods.)
Fact check: Rescue and relief efforts during times of natural disasters come under the purview of the federal government.
Penang was hit by the Invest 95W tropical disturbance, causing the worst floods in its history last November.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng called Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for help. Later, Prime Minister Najib Razak came to Penang and met Lim, and chaired a disaster management meeting.
The military was deployed in various areas in Penang to help. This is standard procedure in any disaster-struck area in the country, where the armed forces are obliged to help in search and rescue efforts.
Later, the Penang government gave RM33.4 million in aid payout to flood victims, the highest flood aid payout in the history of the country.